17 things you can learn from going on a long journey

Shrithanu, Koh Phangan, Thailand.

Because I am figuring out the next steps of my journey and in the middle of this ‘letting go of my expectations’ thing I asked myself what I have learned so far. Here we go.

1. Life is unpredictable. We don’t know what live will bring us. At home life may look predictable but it isn’t either. Traveling makes the unpredictable very visible. Plans change all the time. I have no clue what the future will bring me. What will happen next? Where will I go? Who will I meet? Will I ever go back to Holland? Will I ever find love in my life? Will I have a family? What will my children look like? Will I settle? Where? When? With who?

2. Things that matter become clearer. In my case: I love my work, I love people, I love to practice life and to find truth and I love to share. I would love to have a healthy and fulfilling relationship and share the rest of my life with my soul companion.

3. We don’t need much. What I need daily is some food and a place to sleep. We don’t need much more. Everything I need fits in half a backpack, the other half is packed with stuff I don’t use or never wear but don’t have the courage to throw or give away (yet).

4. Jumping into the unknown is less scary than we think. The keyword is ‘think’. We are all great at producing self-limiting thoughts and we spread them around too, calling it ‘advice’ and affect others. But after every jump you will land and you will start finding your way. You find a place to eat, you find a place to sleep and you find things to do. This is the same everywhere. Nobody paralyzes when he or she crossed a border. All over the world the sun rises in the morning and sets at night. Ok, perhaps not always near the North Pole.

5. Humans are friendly and honest the vast majority of the time. In 7 months of traveling I have had not one situation that was truly unpleasant. Even when I was stuck in Iraqi traffic when the car bomb exploded people were concerned about my safety. Nothing was stolen from me, many times I found something I had forgotten in the place where I left it or somebody was keeping it for me.

6. Taxi drivers outside airports are the exception. I would say that in 99% of the airport-to-destination rides I was ripped of. I have not made 99 rides but I don’t think I paid a fair price one. The 1% is because I like to believe in the goodness of people.

7. A language barrier is a smaller obstacle than perceived. It is harder to make friends when you can’t talk with each other. But in every culture they understand that you need food and shelter and quite often it is taken care of before you have figured out what the word for ‘bed’ is in the local language.

8. Accepting who we are and where we are in life releases life energy and brings joy. Recently I freed myself from my expectations, hopefully forever but at least for now. It feels good. Strangely enough, I immediately feel more energy and a new desire to write and to work. I am such a little child, every time I discover something new I feel the need to tell the whole world: “Mom, mom, look at me!” That’s why I am writing this post: it makes me happy.

9. Doing good (or making an effort to do good) is universally valued and appreciated. I am trying to do good things and I am rewarded for it in many different ways. Sometimes in indirect ways and sometimes I receive so much praise it is hard to take in. We tend to hold back our goodness out of embarrassment. But overcoming that embarrassment can change lives. Your kindness can crush paradigms, of others and of yourself.

10. People are people. Probably my biggest insight. Although it may sound self-evident it is a different thing to have lived it. By giving workshops in many countries and getting a close look at people with different religions, races, traditions, cultures and background I could also see how much we are truly the same. We all want to be good, we all want our children to be good and we all need love.

11. Relationships are complicated everywhere. I have not been on one mountain, valley, village, metropole, city or country where people said: we have nailed the secret to happy relationships. Don’t think that you will find abundant amounts of perfect men or women in some far away country. True love is a rare thing (and I personally feel that the best chance of finding it is by cleaning up personal emotional garbage. At least, this is my strategy but I am not the best example).

12. Those who are born in the wealthy and free part of the world are very fortunate. It is just true. There is a lot of injustice and inequality in the world. So many people do not have the means to travel, have national authorities that give them a hard time leaving the country (can’t get a passport) or are just not welcome in other countries. This doesn’t go for dirt poor people alone. I met a couple from Sudan. Although they had decent jobs they are not welcome in Europe. Even if you can afford to take your girl to Paris; it is not a free country for everyone. I can go pretty much everywhere because I am from The Netherlands. I did nothing to earn that status. It is a humbling insight.

13. Traveling is (relatively) cheap. For Westerners goes that everybody can travel. I met a guy who would travel for more than five months with € 500,-. With hitchhiking, CouchSurfing and cooking your own meals you come a very long way. Believing that you can’t travel because you are not rich enough is not true.

14. Leaving takes courage. I might be used to life on the road now, I was shit scared when I left my home. But all the fear is in the mind and all the painful and awful things that can happen to a man can also happen at home.

15. We have to create and shape our own dreams (and don’t count on others to make them come true). I went to Hong Kong to work and make money and I did it. I went to Baghdad to make a contribution to the Iraqi community and I did it. At the same time I am also learning not to depend too much on others. I have had a lot of support but not in the way I expected and not from the people I expected it from. It is good to be without a safety net for a while.

16. Go slow, don’t rush. I am ‘doing’ countries in approximately one month per country. This is already too fast. I bought an ‘around the world ticket’ that is valid for a year. I would not recommend it. Taking it slow is better for body and mind, you become more a participant in life and less a consumer of experiences.

17. A journey gives new perspective on life. I become very aware of my humanity, of my potential and of the impact I have on people’s life’s. I also become aware of my insignificance and of how easy I seem to be forgotten. It is both empowering and humbling.

Hmm.. 17 lessons. Not bad. I will keep moving and see what more will comes. Oh, and if you think about going on a journey yourself: please do. It might not be the happiest year in my life, I totally don’t regret it and I feel it will open up doors that will serve me for the rest of my life. I just don’t know which doors I am talking about.


  1. Eduard says

    Hoi Atalwin,

    Mooi rijtje…, mooie woorden…, fijne toon.


    En ik ben je zeker nog niet vergeten 😉

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